Saturnalia (Nova Roma)

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This article is about Saturnalia practices in Nova Roma. For the ancient holiday, see Saturnalia.

Saturnalia falls at the time when non-Romans are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice and/or Kwanzaa. In Nova Roma, individual citizens have chosen different approaches to the challenge of celebrating in the spirit of Rome without cutting themselves off from the culture in which they live.

This page is a compilation of Saturnalia celebrations reported by Nova Romans.

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Roman decorations and celebrations

Secunda Floria Zonara: Gold, because the sun is yellow, is always a sure choice for a good Saturnalia decoration. For modern Saturnalia, those golden glass ball ornaments are ideal, as are gold sun faces, gold stars, and gilded anythings. Gilding nuts and pine cones and nestling them among the swags and wreaths of greenery would be a lovely way of acknowledging the ancient roots of this ceremony.

Indoor trees are not ancient Roman, but if you have plants growing indoors, decorating them would certainly be in the spirit of the holidays. If you just have to have the now-traditional indoor tree, try decorating it in gold ornaments with a solar theme. Swathe it in bright red or purple ribbons (2 colors quite in favor with the Romans, and looks great with the gold ornaments). Top the tree with a sun, rather than a star, for after all, this is a solar celebration.

Wild parties with lots of food and drink is good. Letting the children of the household lead the common rituals, and waiting on them (assuming you don't do so in everyday circumstances....) at mealtimes, and deferring to them in decisions on party ideas would work for role reversals.

No children in the house? Maybe you can borrow one for a day. We don't have slaves, but, for a nice touch of role reversal, we could purchase the services of a nanny or a housekeeper for the duration of Saturnalia. It would be a role reversal of sorts, for instead of being the slave of your home, someone else would be doing the chores and cooking and childcare while you got to party down!

Dancing and singing in the streets is now frowned upon, unless you can get a parade permit. A parade, if you could organize it, would be fun. Imagine - giant floats of the Gods tended by the priests and acolytes, musicians and dancers, contortionists to amaze and delight, acrobats and jugglers, all in honor of Saturn!

Gift Ideas


Ovid. (2000). Penguin. ISBN 0140446907
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A Taste of Ancient Rome

Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa. (1994). ISBN 0226290328
Excellent and very usable dishes from Apicius and other Romans.
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Roman Cookery: Ancient Recipes for Modern Kitchens

Mark Grant. (1999). Serif Publishing. ISBN 1897959397
Paperback. Informative, entertaining and cook-able recipes from around the Roman world, excluding Apicius.
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Ashen Sky: The Letters of Pliny The Younger on the Eruption of Vesuvius

Pliny. (September 17, 2007). Getty Trust Publications: J. Paul Getty Museum. ISBN 0892369000
Hardcover, 40 pages. This slim volume features Barry Moser engravings. Contributed by Agricola
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B00108YGRY.01.MZZZZZZZ.jpg Silver Sonya by Meredith Bragg (Performer)

CD containing the song Plinian, as featured on the Vox Romana podcast #6. Singing and acoustic guitar by Meredith Bragg. The other songs on this CD are just as literate as Plinian. Much of the CD seems inspired by ruminations on classical studies. SPIN magazine has a review and a download of Plinian.
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HABA has a number of architectural sets based on Roman and classical themes.
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An Introduction to Roman Religion

John Scheid, Janet Lloyd (Translator). (n.d.) ISBN 0253216605
This is an English translation of the book La Religion des Romains (ISBN 2200263775) . This book is a must for all those who wish to know what the Religio Romana was and how it was practiced. It is written in the form of a manual, a small booklet very easy to read, with lots of notes, quotations and illustrations.
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Glass is 19mm across.
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One present each day

L. Iulia Aquila: My family, like those of yours, has its own traditions for the festival. The daily gifting of one small thoughtful and useful present each day is a loving reminder of the season culminating with a few extra on the last day. This holiday has many variations because the traditions handed down are dependent on so many variables and often are reminiscent of many eras. In addition, in the past, they blended in to some degree on the surface with other Holidays, for example Chanukah (a little later this year) and Christmas. This only served to make our Saturnalia even richer as we shared with our friends of different religions the merriment and joy but also the great sense of the sacred and this we all have in common no matter what our beliefs are. And the tales and lore of different cultures and religions enriched us all. The games, the decorations, the lights and candles delighted us all. Every evening meal was a little special and often attended by guests of our brotherhood and those in their employ with special feasts on such days as the Bacchanalia of the Solstice; 20th century Roman feasts. The feasts extended to the eve of the 24th and day of the 25th; on the 25th we awoke just knowing this great elf called Santa Claus brought gifts to us in celebration of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the birth of the unconquered sun, brought forward from my strong paternal military lineage.

Mi amice, this is my small and humble offering for your enjoyment and it is my sincerest wish that this season brings you peace, prosperity and love for you and your family: Oh Saturn, oldest and noblest king, hear my sincerest prayer for your Nova Roman people for peace, prosperity and love but also sow your generative seed for the strength, fortitude and understanding to make great strides in progress for growth within the res publica. Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis!

A traditional Roman family celebration

C. Tullius Valerianus Germanicus consul: The first day of Saturnalia! This morning, I removed the bonds on my image of Saturnus, and made sacrifice unto that god. Tonight my family shared a roasted pork dinner (no, we didn't sacrifice the pig ourselves - we're not *that* traditional!). We ate by candlelight, wearing our pilei. I had some mulled mead to drink - my substitute for mulsum. After dinner we distributed small gifts (I give out my gifts in small baskets - sportulae). The sportulae contained some traditional gifts, like candles, and some less so (like small amounts of "money" - chocolate gelt). We used the chocolate coins for another traditional Saturnalia activity - gambling! We raced to complete a Saturnalia-themed wordsearch (which I won - Eugepae! - and thus added to my stock of chocolate coins!). Then we played a dice game (this time I lost - Eheu!). But a good time was had by all. Every time we did an activity, we had to draw from a bowl of paper slips upon which were printed Saturnalia-themed rhymes, and read them aloud to the family.

Bringing Wine & Cakes

M. Hortensia Maior: I'm making Mulsum and honey cakes for my Latin class and friends. Another person is bringing "Synaulia" ancient Roman music CD's. We're meeting at a pizzeria so I think this is fun and not too much to do.

Mulsum Recipe: add 200 ML of honey to a bottle of white wine, chill and let the flavours marry for a few days. Then serve.

Dog's world turned upside-down

Damianus Lucianus Dexippus: Since the festival runs for seven days, I plan to do something wild on each day. Unfortunately I have to work, but I plan on spreading good cheer throughout the office by wearing loud clothes (well...more loud than usual) and a different Renaissance hat each day (have lots from the Ren Fairres). I usually feed my dog after I have had during that week, little Artemis will receive her food first.

Oh, and I'm trying to work in an orgy ...

Bacchus and books

Q. Fabius Maximus: Since most of my friends know I'm a Roman Historian, I got:

  • "The World of Josephus"
  • "Beyond the Inhabited World. Life beyond the Limes."
  • "Caesar against the Celts"
  • "War and Imperialism in Republican Rome."
  • "Training the Roman Cavalry"
  • "Soldier and Civilian in the Later Roman Empire."
  • "Agricola and Roman Britain"

I also got some Byzantine books and Xenophon's novel "Cyropaedia" (Life of Cyrus the Great.)

Friends who came to my party brought not one, not two, but 3 Bacchuses!! Statues, that is. I also got a HUGE plaque of the Forum in relief, 62" x 40" as a gift.

Saturnalia with a little girl

Amethystia Iunia Crystallina: You'll have to forgive me, but this is really the first Saturnalia that I have either *cared* about or been allowed to do what I wanted for the Saturnalia. I am just so excited I am probably going to go nuts and share every minute.

Last night I got things ready for this first Saturnalia morning. I gave the house special attention in cleaning and went into the kids' (I think of it as 'their' room, even though Lapis will not be born until February and both of them will be sleeping with me, for a while anyway) playroom closet to pick out the gift Terry would get this morning. I decided on her dry-erase board and markers from me and the puzzle book my mother sent for her.

I put the board and the markers out, kept the puzzle book apart, so she wouldn't get overwhelmed and tried to sleep. Terry woke me at 8 with her usual happy talk and demands for juice. She got out of bed and drank and wandered into the living room, where she discovered her present. She drew on the board and herself (I showed her how to draw on the board, she showed herself the other). I brought out the puzzle book, and showed her how it worked. She is having the time of her little life, which is all the gift I could ever want!

We aren't rich, but I wanted *her* to feel rich, if only for one week.

Friday, the second day of Saturnalia, brought Terry her talking Winnie the Pooh book. She liked it so much I had to pack it in the diaper bag when we went to the senior center. I dressed her in winter white -- a pair of pants and a nice top all winter white with a sort of leafy pattern in gold on it. I put her hair in a pony tail and tied it with a scrap of golden material I made into a nice hair ribbon.

Terry was a wonderful hit at the senior center!! She walked to every table and looked and smiled at everyone. I think this will be a nice tradition for us every year. The local eighth-graders came to sing carols to the seniors and Terry looked with rapt attention as they sang. She, as usual, fought her nap (but she was surrounded by her subjects, allplaying Hail Toddler, so it is sort of understandable)...

Out of 9 days, Terry receives presents on 8 (must be nice, huh?).

Relinquishing the boss's role

Q. Fabius Maximus: Tomorrow and Friday, Bandwagon Productions will be run by the assistants. Hopefully, we will lose no major deals because of this. However, my assistants love this holiday now. Monday I have a big meeting, so it's only for two days, this year. My partners think I am crazy.

Red and gold

Mia: We've decorated everything in red and gold, since we pretty much celebrate this as a strictly and directly solar holiday. We have a gold star at the top of our tree-wannabe, but we reason that the sun is, after all, a star, and it was a good $5 cheaper than the sunburst-style tree topper. It all seems to fit nicely into the Saturnalia theme too.

My husband is all in favor of getting some wine and starting Saturnalia out on the right foot... I am more in favor of him taking me out to a restaurant. :)

Circle of Saturn

Damianus Lucianus Dexippus: As the Muse would have it, I was sitting around thinking of a way to acknowledge each of the days of the Saturnalia festival. Being of the modern age with our Pagan-unfriendly bosses making us work during this Festive Holiday and scrambling to buy gifts for both Pagan and non-Pagan friends and family, how can we take a few moments to honor each day of the Saturnalia, whether or not we plan festivities for the whole week?

Well...I came up with this. I went to the store after work and bought seven small candleholders. (The ones I bought are real seasonal. They are made of brass with little pine-cones, holly berries, and red ribbons tied around them). I also bought seven red candles. When I got home, I placed some pine branches (yes...left over from the Yule Log decorations) on my permanent altar where I do my meditations and prayers. Then I encircled the seven candle holders around the center of the altar.

Each day I plan to offer a prayer to Saturnus and Ops and light a candle for that day's festivities. It's kinda like a Pagan Menorah. At the end of the seven days, the Circle of Saturn will be completely ablaze.

Life, death and a Yule log

Damianus Lucianus Dexippus: I went to one of the Tree Butcheries and asked for one of the trunks they may have cut off to size it for the picky families. It's a nice size log. So I brought it home and placed it on a bed of pine branches (also taken from the butchery). I adhered three candles to the log (one white, one red, and one green) to symbolize the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. I decorated the log and branches with red beads and lights.

This is my Yule Log. Without a fire place to burn it traditionally, I thought the candles made an acceptable Neo-Pagan adaption. I'm planning a small ritual on December 22 where I will light the candles to remind me of the Sun's rebirth (white candle) and the promise of new beginnings and hope in the new year, the fulfillment of oaths and deeds during the year (the red candle...symbolizing the Sun at its zenith), and the time of meditation and contemplation (the green candle ...symbolizing the Sun at its rest, its return to the underworld).

Welcoming door

M. Minucius Audens: As I understand it, most of the Saturnalia decorations are very much up to you (and your pocketbook) and a logical outlook on the season. The Yule Log, the tree, ornanments and decorations that today's Christians use were brought from elsewhere and are acceptable (except maybe for the angel at the top of the tree). Candles and candle decorations with bright colors, ribbons or strips of brightly colored cloth hung in decorative shapes. Decorative hangings and festive table decorations were well thought of. Don't forget the family shrine or gods, offerings of cakes and wine should be made and the decorations here should also reflect your house decorations.

Candles in the windows are supposed to be a New England idea, but I suspect that a candle(s) in the portico were used as luminaria are used many places today. Home made dishs of flower petals and buds with lingering aroma, put a pan of apple juice / cider on the stove to heat gently and use apple pie spice in the juice to give the house a wonderful odor. (Falernian wine heavily spiced is veryyyyyy good too.) I'm sure a half dozen of Venator's "Fire Cherries" will make you think more clearly than ever before (but reserve time for a nap later).

The house should be warm, with warm blankets or comforters at convenient places, and should smell good and should reflect your own festive ideas. When things all come together. You will "feel" that it is right. I like "one color themes" where blue, or red or silver predominate in a window scene or the decoration of a door.

One prominent door in my house is the "Greeting Door" where all the greetiings of Saturnalia are placed. Little incense cones burning at the shrine or in small decorative dishes around the house help with good smells. Evergreen and bright berries like holly and mistletoe, as well as any plants or trees in your area that smells or looks good. Our laurel here in Connecticut stays green all year and can be made into a nice decoration. Colored paper cut into nice designs can be used.

Don't forget the cookies and sweetbreads either, and try to make time to bake something every day. Most important is the enjoyment. You must schedule a time for just sitting and enjoying your decorated place be it a castle or a cave or anything in between, You should be the one to enjoy your creation the most.

See also

Related products

Products related to this topic are sold by: Lucia Livia Plauta, Gaius Vipsanius Agrippa, Iulia Cassia Vegetia, Gaius Curius Saturninus, Marcus Lucretius Agricola.

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